There was no love lost between members of The Who. Anyone who has paid attention to the band for a modicum of time will be able to tell you that. But during 1966, the tensions between the quartet grew to an immeasurable level and threatened to derail their progress as a band just as it was getting going. Roger Daltrey’s behaviour had seen him become the walking talking target within the group and it prompted another rock legend to chance his arm at taking his place.
During this time, a 17-year-old Robert Plant, soon to become one of the most recognisable voices of a generation as the lead singer of Led Zeppelin, became interested in taking over the spot currently held by Roger Daltrey. It goes down as one of the more potent “what if” moments of rock and roll and leaves us contemplating just the kind of searing rock anthems Pete Townshend and Robert Plant may have concocted together. Could it also be the start of Townshend’s disdain for the band?
If Keith Moon, John Entwistle, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend weren’t on stage smashing up their instruments and causing havoc, then they were probably fighting one another and with their fists too. The Who were legendary for their inter-band fighting, but most groups left things at vicious words; The Who were always down for a dust-up with physical violence, only ever a hair’s breadth away.
Their first real punch-up came after Daltrey had flushed Moon’s pills down the toilet—even forcing the band to “sack” Daltrey for some time, clearly breaking a secret vow they had all made. But that tension quickly dissipated when the group realised ‘My Generation’ was topping the charts and suggesting that a career shrouded in pop stardom still lay ahead if they just paid attention.
It was a similar scenario for the other arguments, violent or otherwise; the group had over the years. Normally, they would run as such: verbal jousting, underlying tension that threatens to bubble up, hugely violent eruption, settle down, back on stage and repeat. But when Daltrey took off for “some extra shagging”, as he eloquently put it, leaving Townshend and Entwistle on vocal duty, tensions grew to an unbearable level.
Having already cancelled a Worcester gig following Daltrey’s no-show, the trio left on stage faced a similar problem when they arrived in Kidderminster, once again without their frontman and the lead singer. On that night, however, in the audience was a fresh-faced 17-year-old Robert Plant who decided he should be the man to fill it after seeing the vacant spot behind the mic.
“[Plant] came to see us three nights in a row and offered himself for the job, as did Steve Gibbons when he came to see us and Roger wasn’t there,” Townshend recalled in 1990. “Obviously none of them thought I was any good [at singing]!” But eventually, Townshend, a seriously controlling artist, decided better the devil you know and stuck with Daltrey.
In 1968, Plant would be a founding member of Led Zeppelin and go on to become one of the biggest artists of the 20th century, outselling The Beatles and largely becoming a bonafide rock legend. Plant and Daltrey have even kept up a good friendship over the years despite sniping for his job, “Robert’s got incredible courage,” Daltrey said in a radio interview. “I know a lot of people kind of say that well he copied you because you had the long, curly hair, and then he comes along with the long curly hair…”
“That’s not true, because Robert is Robert,” he said. ” I just wish I could’ve been as tall.”
Of course, considering Pete Townshend’s relationship with Led Zeppelin, a band he has routinely hated for much of his career, we think our first wondering — the kind of songs he could have made with Robert Plant — may have equally ended up as becoming a flurry of fists.
Oh, what could’ve been!